Wednesday, December 06, 2006

my impression

so i made my way through the whole damn thing.

i'm glad that it's assessment of the situation is relatively straightforward. the picture it paints of iraq is similar to the grim impression i had in following the news there. while it probably doesn't completely capture the full horrible reality, the descriptive section at the beginning can't simply be dismissed as a whitewash.

the prescriptive part, however, just seems a little pollyanna-ish. there's recommendations that i agree with (e.g. no permanent bases in iraq, opening a dialogue with iraq's neighbors, re-engagement in the israeli-palestinian peace process), i just don't think they necessarily add up to a "victory" in iraq.

and i think the report dismisses the withdrawal option in a rather cursory fashion. in fact, the following paragraph is pretty much all that it says about the option favored by most americans and iraqis:
Because of the importance of Iraq, the potential for catastrophe, and the role and commitments of the United States in initiating events that have led to the current situation, we believe it would be wrong for the United States to abandon the country through a precipitate withdrawal of troops and support. A premature American departure from Iraq would almost certainly produce greater sectarian violence and further deterioration of conditions, leading to a number of the adverse consequences outlined above. The near-term results would be a significant power vacuum, greater human suffering, regional destabilization, and a threat to the global economy. Al Qaeda would depict our withdrawal as a historic victory. If we leave and Iraq descends into chaos, the long-range consequences could eventually require the United States to return.
five sentences. that's it. the first one just states the ISG's conclusion and the last one really just states it again. the middle three sentences i actually agree with (at least in the short-term). yet i still think a withdrawal is the best option.

and that's really the problem with the report. the authors are looking for a happy ending and there is none. just raising the spector of a bad outcome doesn't necessarily mean the course of action is not still the best one available. as i've mention many times before, it's not a matter of finding a good option, it's about finding the least bad option. listing the problems with the withdrawal option isn't enough. the authors have to argue that the other options aren't worse. they never do that. and by leaving it out, they never give withdrawal any serious consideration.

i mentioned below that i think the report could change the terms of the debate over iraq in this country. i still think that's true even though i don't believe that the report adds up to a realistic solution to the problem of iraq.